As we eagerly await the arrival of Suzuki’s flagship Grand Vitara this month, Driven looks at the 25-year history of the revered nameplate.

The story of the Suzuki Grand Vitara begins a decade before its global introduction in 1998, with the release of the first-generation Vitara that heralded a new step in the evolution of Suzuki four-wheel-drive cars. 

Billed as a cross-country 4×4 with a three-door urban design, the Vitara stood out as a unique alternative to conventional cross-country vehicles.

Equipped with bulging blister fenders front and back, the Vitara oozed a sporty, playful attitude, while its sturdy frame and part-time all-wheel-drive system assured solid performance and coil-spring suspension delivered a smooth ride. The Vitara was released with a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine and was available in either hard-top or convertible guise.

The first-generation Vitara continued its successful decade-long run across the globe, adding a five-door model with an extended wheelbase in 1991, and two new engines (2.0-litre V6 and 2.0-litre turbodiesel) in 1995, both of which were available in South Africa. The V6 introduced a graceful yet powerful drive to the vitara experience, while the diesel was celebrated for its low-rev torque and enhanced fuel efficiency.


Technically, it may have been the second generation of Vitara, but the legacy of the Grand Vitara officially began in 1998 as an authentic four-wheeler with comfortable on-road performance and a boldly retooled exterior design. While inheriting the blister fender of its predecessors, the Grand Vitara showed a dramatic departure in attitude with its taut, curvy exterior. The basic concept, however, was unchanged: a part-time all-wheel-drive system borne on a ladder frame in a compact body. The engine selection for the second generation comprised petrol models, including a 1.6-litre, 2.0-litre, and a roaring 2.5-litre V6. A 2.0-litre diesel version was also introduced, although the model wasn’t seen in South Africa.

In 2001, the long-body Grand Vitara XL7 debuted as the flagship model of the series. With a 2.7-litre V6 engine and a three-row, seven-seat configuration (a five-seat variation was also available), this SUV married a spacious cabin with full-bore all-wheel-drive performance.


When Suzuki started conceptualising the third-generation Grand Vitara, it had to consider the considerable heritage of the nameplate while shaping the future direction of its premier compact sports utility vehicle. Arriving here on Spring Day in 2008, South Africa became one of the first markets in the world to receive the new Grand Vitara, adding two brand-new powerplants to the Grand Vitara’s crisp, contemporary styling, comprehensive specification levels and legendary, true 4×4 capability.

The five-door Grand Vitara range consisted of three models: two 2.4-litre four-cylinder derivatives, and a 3.2-litre V6 flagship, the latter’s 3,195 cc V6 with its twin overhead camshafts per bank and 24 valves with VVT variable valve timing was credited with delivery 165 kW and 284 Nm of torque.

With a more linear design and a monocoque body with built-in ladder-frame structure, the Grand Vitara benefitted from the monocoque structure’s lighter weight and the ladder frame’s ruggedness. Mechanisms new to the Grand Vitara included full-time all-wheel-drive and four-wheel independent suspension, delivering enhanced comfort in a vehicle series key to Suzuki’s global automobile strategy. 

The all-wheel-drive system introduced a dial-type switch enabling the driver to choose from four driving modes while adding traction control was another bonus.

The use of high-quality materials and close attention to detail was a Grand Vitara highlight. Both 2.4-litre models featured soft-touch plastics and metallic trim accents, with the flagship adding leather upholstery and black wood trim.

All models featured keyless operation with selective remote central locking, tinted windows, climate control air-conditioning, electric windows and mirrors, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio satellite controls, while cruise control, a glass sunroof, xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, and hill descent/ascent control rounded off the offering in the V6 model.


When the fourth generation of the Vitara series was introduced locally in 2015, it upheld the brand’s character with an authentic 4×4 vehicle and a crossover SUV while incorporating advances in every aspect, from design and drive performance to safety and environmental performance, resulting in a fresh compact SUV.

Although the compact and stylish five-door SUV was now outfitted with Suzuki’s latest-generation AllGrip electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system (in GL+ and GLX models), a new lightweight body allowed for the downsizing of the engine to a 1.6-litre petrol unit. A turbodiesel option was also available in other markets. 


After 25 years of innovation, the third Grand Vitara introduces new technologies and a new level of luxury to the Suzuki line-up in South Africa. Suzuki’s model range is wholly designed and developed and produced at the Toyota Kirloskar Motor factory in India under the global Suzuki/Toyota global alliance.

Among the many new features available on the Grand Vitara are Suzuki’s renowned Smart Hybrid Vehicle by Suzuki (SHVS) technology and AllGrip Select all-wheel-drive system.

The SHVS incorporates an integrated starter generator motor that replaces the conventional alternator to deliver additional power to the engine during acceleration. The SHVS also regenerates energy during deceleration for storage in the long-life 12-Volt lithium-ion battery, which is fitted to hybrid versions of the Grand Vitara alongside the standard lead acid battery.

The SHVS system primarily assists the engine during normal and more demanding driving conditions and, in doing so, increases fuel efficiency and reduces emissions. It can, however, channel its energy to components such as headlights, air conditioning and infotainment to reduce the engine load for further fuel savings.

The Grand Vitara will be available in two engine configurations: Suzuki’s renowned K15B 1.5-litre powerplant and the all-new K15C 1.5-litre dual-jet motor with SHVS mild hybrid technology. K15B-equipped variants will be available in both manual and automatic transmission options, while the K15C-equipped variants will feature AllGrip all-wheel-drive paired with an automatic transmission.

As the new flagship in the Suzuki range, the Grand Vitara offers class-leading features such as a 9” high-definition touch-screen infotainment system, a 360-degree around-view camera system, and a head-up display and wireless smartphone charging on range-topping models.

Other must-have luxuries such as LED projector headlights, cruise control, six airbags, keyless entry with a push-button start system, and intelligent climate control are fitted to the entire range.


Suzuki SUVs carrying the Vitara name have been an enduring success since the Japanese automaker launched the first Vitara in 1988. Yet, the Grand Vitara has always been the true torchbearer of the values and qualities that set the small SUV/crossover pioneer apart from its peers. On the back of its local introduction this month, South Africa again becomes one of the first countries in the world to welcome the Grand Vitara to its shores.


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